#26

“What hidden terror keeps the Batman awake at night?”

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Written by Henry Gilroy, Sean Catherine Derek

Resisting the urge to flash back to the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne in any prior episode pays off big-time in Nothing to Fear. While this is Jonathan Crane’s debut, and traditionally origin stories belong to the villain, this is Batman’s episode through-and-through. Scarecrow’s toxin allows us to explore Bruce Wayne’s psyche by unearthing his greatest fear. Only three episodes into the series and the creators are making it clear that there is a man beneath the cowl and he is filled with pain and doubt. Batman’s torment also brings out the best in Alfred, giving us a rare glimpse of the butler as a genuine father figure instead of being underwritten as a caricature of a posh British manservant.

Plus, this is the episode with the line– you know what line I’m talking about! And it’s cool to see what’s basically become an over-used soundbite play out in its original context, because Batman’s most iconic quote is actually delivered when he’s looking his most vulnerable. It’s an image that perfectly conveys Batman’s never-ending struggle and his indomitable will. The only real drawback to Nothing to Fear is that the animation is rather mediocre compared to other episodes this deep into the list. Scarecrow’s initial design in particular looked somewhat like an unfinished Muppet. A far cry from his bone-chilling look in The New Batman Adventures.

 

#25

“All I wanted from you, dearie, was a little friendship. That would have cost you nothing!”

Directed by Frank Paur

Written by Brynne Stephens

Story by Chuck Menville

Watching any rogue struggle to resist the pull of supervillainy as they genuinely try to adapt to normal civilian life is a compelling subject. And that’s why you’ll see quite a few reform-themed episodes ranked so highly on the list! In Birds of a Feather, socialite Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner is so good as this character) welcomes the newly-released Oswald Cobblepot back into high society, but it’s all part of one big practical joke that toys with Oswald’s emotions in ways that are quite painful to watch. In addition to being smartly written and brilliantly acted, the episode also boasts an opera-inspired score by Shirley Walker that is one of the series’ best!

Paul Williams (yes, “Rainbow Connection” and “Touch” Paul Williams) is the voice I hear whenever I see Penguin in the comics, and it’s because of this episode right here. While I do love Blind as a Bat, I love it because of Batman and his persistence. Birds of a Feather, on the other hand, I love because of Penguin. By portraying Oswald Cobblepot as the victim, Menville & Stephens humanize a character that was nothing but avian puns and trick umbrellas until a vignette in Almost Got ‘im put the foe on the right track. Now we get to hear Paul Williams’ range and we understand that Penguin is indeed a person and he’s funny, charming, a bit brash at times but always sincere. And when that sincerity is mocked we witness his rage, and it’s a hell of a thing to behold.

 

#24

Directed by Kevin Altieri

Written by David Wise

The Clock King has been around for a long time (heh), but the BTAS version is a total overhaul of the character and the reinvention is a major improvement that foregoes corny gimmicks and emphasizes a deeper psychology behind the clock motif. Here we meet Temple Fugate, an uptight businessman who lives life according to a strict schedule with every aspect of his day planned, measured, and performed accurately and on-time. And then a guy on the train convinces Fugate to break routine just once and– you guessed it– his whole life falls apart. The event shatters Fugate’s psyche and makes him more obsessed with punctuality than ever as The Clock King. In fact, he’s so detail-oriented that he spends seven years plotting a revenge scheme that’s so well-orchestrated that I can confidently say it runs like a Swiss watch.

The episode looks good (great throughout the final set piece), Clock King is skillfully adapted to be a complex and formidable Bat-villain, there’s a surprising amount of action and creative deathtraps, and the score by Carlos Rodriguez is evocative of the ticking clock. It’s a good…time. I’ll stop.

 

#23

“He’s the only one worthy of the game.”

Directed by Dan Riba

Written by Randy Rogel

Story by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, and Randy Rogel

You gotta love Eric Mahady’s title card for this episode! The painting is an obvious homage to John Romita Sr.’s now famous image of Peter Parker chucking his costume in Amazing Spider-Man #50 and it’s fitting because this episode is all about Nygma (released on good behavior) giving up The Riddler identity. Trying to, anyway. Nygma sells The Riddler persona and some nifty puzzle designs to the Wacko Toy Corporation and becomes wildly successful as a result. But being released on good behavior isn’t quite the same as being declared mentally healthy. Incapable of being satisfied with wealth and fame while Batman yet lives, Nygma once again strives to be the smartest man left standing.

The episode is Riddler’s best, featuring smart riddles that get the audience engaged, sleek animation, a phenomenal performance from John Glover, and one of the series’ most memorable endings. In fact, come to think of it, all the Riddler episodes wrap up with a great ending…

 

#22

Directed by Boyd Kirkand

Written by Paul Dini

One of the facts about BTAS, a genuine constant, is that if Ivy shows up then it’s guaranteed to be a good episode, and House and Garden is Pamela’s finest solo appearance. It’s smartly written, expertly drawn, and Shirley Walker’s music really amplifies the tension. Be forewarned, this isn’t going to be fun like Harley and Ivy (also penned by Paul Dini). This is a tragic and deeply disturbing episode with some messed up visuals that would make David Cronenberg proud. Get ready to feel sorry for– and then terrified of– Poison Ivy.

 

#21

Directed by Kevin Altieri

Written by Paul Dini

Harleen Quinzel is released from Arkham and tries to go straight, but a misunderstanding at a department store (it really didn’t take much) snaps her back into Harley Quinn mode. What follows is a madcap adventure that pulls in Batman, the mob, Harvey Bullock, and Veronica Vreeland’s over-protective and Patton-obsessed pappy (with tank).

Harley’s Holiday distances Quinn from Joker and Ivy for once and proves that the character definitely has legs to carry a story all on her own. Additionally, by separating her from the antics of Mr. J and Ivy we can finally get a good look at her relationship with Batman, and Dini shows us that Batman feels responsible for Harley’s downward spiral. After all, if there wasn’t a Joker there wouldn’t be a Harley. But I’m not going to try and make this episode sound deep by any means. You’re watching this episode because it’s REALLY fun. No other episode of Batman: The Animated Series is quite as whacky as this. And I love that Harley’s humor doesn’t just originate from the dialogue, but physical comedy is a big part of her shtick as well.

 

#20

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Written Michael Reaves

I am the Night is Batman: The Animated Series at its most dour. It forgoes larger-than-life rogues and super heroics for a sober look at the heavy burden of Batman’s mission. This was the kind of territory Reaves liked to explore most it seems as he also wrote such gritty, grounded episodes as A Bullet for Bullock and Vendetta, the latter of which still stands as the only episode of a children’s cartoon in which a cop suggests to “drag the bay” for bodies. I Am the Night gets right to the core of what makes Batman so great: it’s not that he can’t be beaten down by enemies or life itself, it’s that every time he is brought down to his lowest point he always gets back up.

 

#19

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Written by Paul Dini

Joker tosses Harley out on the street, but it doesn’t take long for her to rebound. At the time, Harley was still a very damaged and codependent character whose dysfunctional romance with Mr. J was in full swing. Harley’s abusive relationship is put at the forefront of Harley and Ivy, but the nastiness of the Clown Prince of Crime is counterbalanced by the sheer delight of watching our girl tear up the town with someone new and discover a little bit of happiness before submitting to her man again.

While away from Mr. J, Harley quickly latches onto Poison Ivy, whose hate for humanity is now written as more of a hatred toward men (the deathtrap she concocts for Batman later in the episode incorporates this and is pretty amusing while also being ingenious in its simplicity–Batman definitely swallows some toxic waste and should be dead though). Despite the episode’s strong Thelma & Louise vibe, writer Paul Dini hadn’t even seen the film prior to writing this ultra-fun, pro-feminist adventure that sees a couple of women effectively conquer Gotham’s underworld in ways that make the Joker himself envious. If only Harley could free herself from Joker’s grip, she and Ivy could run this town. The episode is brimming with great moments, some of which are the best in the entire series.

 

#18

Directed by Frank Paur

Written by Paul Dini

Mind-control hats and an Alice in Wonderland theme park, what a light-hearted and whimsi–WRONG! Mad as a Hatter goes to some pretty dark places and it starts with Wayne Industries scientist Jervis Tetch inventing a mind-control device and using it (and his newfound confidence) to impress his crush. When he’s rejected despite his best efforts, Tetch…well, he tumbles down the rabbit hole. It’s easy for an audience to empathize with the forever-alone Jervis Tetch, so hopelessly in love with someone he cannot have. Mistaking the politeness of an attractive acquaintance for genuine interest is something most of us can probably relate to, but your sympathy for Jervis is tested throughout the episode when his romantic woes fester into obsession and a lunacy that blurs the line between reality and the fantasy of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.

In addition to presenting a flawless origin story, the episode also gives us a peek at how Bruce acts around the office, and not just around Lucius but the regular folks that work in his building. It turns out he’s a pretty affable boss that anybody would be happy to work for. Good.

 

#17

Directed by Dick Sebast

Written by Judith Reeves-Stevens & Garfield Reeves-Stevens

Bound in a straightjacket and locked away in Arkham Asylum, Batman recounts the series of events that led to his imprisonment in this dark tale that, unlike any other episode of the series, is narrated by Batman himself. It’s an intense story made all the more dramatic by Kevin Conroy’s hard-boiled voice-over. Studio Junio also delivers the best fear-toxin hallucinations you’ll see in the series– the Waynes walking into a tunnel that morphs into a gun barrel, which spews forth a cascade of blood when Thomas and Martha vanish into the shadows is one beautiful piece of nightmare imagery.

 

#16

Directed by Kevin Altieri

Written by Brynne Stephens

Blade Runner is a lot better with Batman in it! The Caped Crusader investigates a string of robberies at major tech companies, which leads him to old friend and robotics expert Karl Rossum (played by the always-delightful William Sanderson, a casting choice that makes the Blade Runner connection even more evident), who has lived in seclusion since the death of his daughter. If you sense a tragic motivation for spine-chilling horrors to come, you’re right.

Things take an Invasion of the Body Snatchers turn with robot “duplicants” replacing major figures in Gotham, including Jim Gordon. The dark science fiction and art-deco design (HARDAC and the unique creations of Cybertron industries in particular) puts the Fleischer Superman influence on full display here in Heart of Steel. And the animation by Sunrise is fluid and absolutely gorgeous, especially during the many, many violent action sequences. Since Batman is up against Robots, the team at BTAS came up with some pretty gruesome deaths for the duplicants because they knew it would totally get past the censors.

In addition to being a gripping sci-fi epic, the two-parter also gives us our first look at Commissioner Gordon’s personal life and we meet the plucky Barbara Gordon for the first time as well. His affection for his daughter (and her stuffed bear Woobie) humanizes the tough but honest cop who, up until now, had only been depicted as barking orders, spouting exposition, and acting surprised every time Batman vanished mid-conversation.

Heart of Steel is imaginative, action-packed (crab-walking robo-Gordon? Bring it), scary, sad, a smart way to expand on Batman’s supporting cast, and just 100% awesome. I’d watch Heart of Steel again right now even after finishing all eighty-five episodes in one week. I’ll never tire of it. It’s that cool.

 

#15

Directed by Kevin Altieri

Written by Paul Dini

Did you see the new DC Animated movie Batman & Harley Quinn? Yeah, this is the original version of that and it’s way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way better. It begins when Joker steals an atomic bomb and plans to blow up all of Gotham, and few episodes from the series have stakes this large in scale! Gotham as a whole or the entire world seem to be at risk every week in today’s comics (it’s exhausting and it’s getting old, real fast) but it’s not a common theme in Batman: The Animated Series. Usually BTAS villains keep things personal, but by employing such a larger-than-life scheme here it gives us a believable excuse for Batman and Robin to team up with Harley: they need someone who can think like the Joker in order to stop the Joker! Once the setup is out of the way, you just gotta sit back and relax to one of the most enjoyable odd couple pairings you’ll ever witness.

Arleen Sorkin’s voice captures the carefree attitude of Harley and her comedic timing is outstanding (Sorkin is always amazing in the role no matter what the episode, she defined the character after all). Writer Paul Dini’s experience on Tiny Toons shines through with a lot of hilarious sight gags and one-liners, but the story isn’t all laughs. Harlequinade is also an insightful piece that feeds us little hints here and there as to how Harley Quinn came to be and, if you’re hearing it for the first time, your shock and amazement will be reflected in the response by The Boy Wonder.

Harlequinade is an episode you can always put on if you want a little pick-me-up after a hard day.

 

#14 Day of the Samurai

“Even a simple defensive block could mean doom.”

Directed by Bruce Timm

Written by Steve Perry

Kyodai Ken wasn’t prepared for his first fight with Bruce Wayne. He went in expecting the pampered rich boy to have grown soft in his years since the dojo, but what he found was The Batman. Now that Kyodai knows what he’s up against he’s going above and beyond to make sure that he not only wins the next battle, but he puts Wayne down for good using a forbidden, ancient technique that kills in a single blow.

Timm does a phenomenal job directing one of the series’ most cinematic episodes. Day of the Samurai‘s grand scale will have you swearing you watched a two-parter and yet somehow this epic was squeezed into twenty-two minutes. The animation is gorgeous, taking the adventure to Japan provides a refreshing change of scenery, and the fight scenes are the greatest that Batman: The Animated Series has to offer.

The countdown continues on page 6